“Just to clarify, for anyone – the FBI or whatever --who may be recording this conversation, we're not discussing illegal activity.”
– C&L Managing Editor Tina Dupuy
So I had this conference call thing with C&L head honcho John Amato and Tina Dupuy the other night. Tina introduced me to John as “the fake Koch brother.” She always does that, like I've done nothing else worthwhile in life except prank call Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. One hit wonder. Chumbawamba. It hurts because it's true.
Anyway, John was musing on the possibility that his phone may have been tapped at one point. It was half joke, half liberal paranoia and, if my math is correct,100 percent possible. It happened to Antiwar.com; the Feds also spied on a raided peace activists in Chicago; it's not unheard of. It's how Patriots Act! This sort of 4th Amendment violation is one of the legacies of 9/11 – along with the illegal murder of hundreds of thousands. And bumper stickers.
The amount spent on Homeland “Security” is staggering – $75 billion a year according to the LA Times. $205,000 of that went toward a nine-ton Bearcat armored vehicle – complete with gun turret – to protect the Dreamworks Animation studio *. The terrorists hate us for our Kung Fu Pandas. And via creepy sounding programs like “If you see something, say something,” our ode to capitalist gluttony, the Mall of America, has transformed itself into a vigilant shopping gestapo, ready to detain any and all shoppers who happen to be too brown – er, um, suspicious.
Those are just a few examples of thousands, in which, under the guise of the Homeland Security, local police departments and security firms acquire the tools they need to do their jobs – because you definitely need a nine-ton armored vehicle to bust meth cooks. Haven't you seen Breaking Bad? Walter White will stop at nothing to protect his family. And you just can't trust that Pinkman kid.
The Military Industrial Complex now includes the Surveillance Industrial Complex, with cities installing cameras on every corner with federal grant money, and drones flying over the borders to protect us from yet more brown people. And in what appears to be the last wall in the American Panopticon, there's currently a bill in Congress called the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.” Of course, we all want to protect kids from pedos, but the bill calls for your internet provider to record all your internet activity for an entire year. Yes, even your totally adult & consensual porn, the Asian midgets, the transsexual dominatrixes. The S! and the M. You just don't deserve privacy, you sick bastard.
It's with all this domestic spying, surveillance and domestic mission creep in mind that I'd like to talk about a disturbing trend: the arrest of citizens for recording police officers. If I knew what band the kids were listening to these days, I'd say it was as big as that...Chumbawamba?
One instance of a journalist being arrested for filming cops...let me think...oh yeah, ME! I know I'm a journalist because I've been condemned by the Society of Professional Journalists. And I know I was arrested because I was arrested.
But there are plenty of others under similar circumstances:
Recently in my neck of the Great North American Wilderness, a woman named Emily Good was arrested by Rochester police, for videotaping officers during a traffic stop from her front lawn. The cops said, they didn't feel safe with her standing there. If you check out the video, the cops come across as petty thugs, and she comes off as the terrified party. Plus her name is Emily Good.
Perhaps the most egregious instance of this insidious fad is the case of one Michael Allison. Allison, a 41-year-old mechanic from Illinois, faces a possible 75 years in jail, for recording public officials. The cops kept hassling him, concerning his right – or lack thereof – to fix cars on his mother's property, so eventually he went to court. During the proceedings, he used a digital voice recorder in order to document the “ridiculous farce.” Now he's being charged with illegal wiretapping. If he worked for the NSA, it would be part of his job description.
Illinois is ass-first leading the way in the backward race against civil liberties. In July, 2010, Chicago police responded to a domestic disturbance call at the home of Tiawanda Moore. The cops separated Moore and her boyfriend, questioning them individually. Moore claims that the officer questioning her tried to chat her up, gave her his phone number and fondled her breast (smooth operator). Moore tried reporting the incident to Chicago police internal affairs. They discouraged her from doing so, and generally brushed her aside. Frustrated over the shabby treatment, Moore broke out her Blackberry to secretly record the exchange. She faced a minimum four year in the slam, for the Class A felony of recording an on duty police officer. In a moment of sanity, she was acquitted.
There have been other victories against the surveillance state of late. A Massachusetts appeals court ruled that arresting citizens for filming police is a clear violation of 1st and 4th Amendments. A guy named Simon Glik saw some Boston police arresting someone and, in hos opinion, using excessive force. So he broke out his smart phone. He was charged under the same arcane wire tapping law, and they threw in some nonsense charges on top – “aiding in the escape of a prisoner.” The charges were dropped, but Glik sued and won.
There are a lot more of these cases. And it's not just passersby and citizens being punished, for the police's vampire-like reaction to cameras. A freelance news cameraman from upstate New York, Phil Datz, was arrested in July of this year, for having the temerity to do his job. He caught the tail end of a high-speed pursuit, so he pulled over and started rolling. In the eyes of the officer on the scene, this was somehow criminal. He's due in court this month.
I don't want to spoil my next C&L post by giving away too many of the comedic details surrounding my unlawful arrest, but I will say that it involved a gay marriage protest, a female cop with a Napoleon complex, factious charges to justify the arrest, erased camera footage, contradictory and error-riddled police reports, and a dildo-microphone.
* CORRECTION: This piece originally mistakenly said that the animation studio under guard was Pixar. The correct studio is Dreamworks and the copy has been updated.
Murphy is the editor of The BEAST. This is his first piece for C&L. He also recently ran for Congress and started a Chumbawamba cover band.